It’s exciting times at Bentley as the firm embarks on its first-ever modern GT3 motorsport programme for 2014.
With a seriously lightened Continental GT V8, the firm is planning to take on premium rivals in the well-worth-a-watch FIA Blancpain Series. And, in turn, hopefully create a modern sporting image for itself.
To complement this, Bentley is making sure its road-going Continental range is suitably more sporting. Which is why I’m sat in Heathrow Terminal 1 waiting for a flight to LA.
Destination is San Diego, to drive the new Continental GT V8 S. Now, view the images and you’ll perhaps wonder what the big deal is. This is hardly a Continental GT3 RS now, is it. Well, no it isn’t. But it is a new sideline for Bentley that it looks like the firm is rather keen to capitalise on.
As you’ll know, we already have hotter versions of the W12, called Speed. A MkI Conti GT Speed was actually my introduction to the Bentley range, back in the day, and I was sold by its blend of luxury and performance.
The V8, of course, isn’t as fast as the mighty W12 (although it’s not far off). It is intentionally a bit less sofa-like too though, creating a slightly more focused car… and it’s this base that the S aims to move on yet further.
Yes, the Continental GT is becoming a sports car.
The figures bear this out: front springs are 45% stiffer. Rear springs are 33% stiffer. It’s 10mm lower. Suspension bush stiffness is up 70%. The rear anti-roll bar is up 54%. Even the steering has been recalibrated, not just with new software, but also with revised static toe and camber, to give it more precision and feedback.
Read more deeply and this sounds like a surprisingly proper job. Even the engine has been breathed upon, now producing 528hp instead of 507hp, for 0-62mph in 4.5 seconds.
Oh, and Bentley adds the exhaust has been tuned to give it more of a “full throttle growl”. Promising.
The overall intention is to create “a sharper sporting edge” says Bentley’s engaging boss Dr. Wolfgang Schreiber. For a car that, for more than a decade, has primarily been a plush continent-crusher, this is to be welcomed.
Bentley’s going up against Porsche on the track. Is the GT V8 S the first sign it plans to do similar things on the road, too? And if so, will the friendly family rivalry extend to a road-going version of the Continental GT3 racecar?
I’ll be sure to ask: come back to see what they say…